World War II Veterans – 3 Stories of This Vanishing Breed

World War II Veterans – 3 Stories of This Vanishing Breed

Many of our veterans have already told their stories. And some have even recorded them for posterity. These three Orange County, California residents decided to record their life stories in Veterans Videos in 2008. Now, in 2010, only two of those three are still with us.

Jim Peirano: Shelling on Pearl Harbor

Jim Peirano fired on Japanese bombers from the deck of his submarine, the USS Dolphin, during the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. He remembers in horror how the Arizona blew up, spraying burning oil over the water – burning hundreds. Jim remembered the look on the faces of the young Japanese pilots as they rushed to drop their bombs. “They had the scarves and everything. You could see them very well because they were flying so low. It was just like the movies!”

Jim was animated throughout the interview. Happy to have witnessed so much history and somehow managed to contain his grief at the terrible loss. Soon after Pearl Harbor, Jim’s submarine left to take the war to the Japanese:

“We knew nothing about waging war,” he said. “We knew how to dive and exercise the submarine. But the rest we had to learn as the war progressed.’

Jim participated in the battles of Midway and Tarawa and saw service in the Solomon Islands where he helped rescue a group of 29 missionary nuns and children. He was in the middle of the “Battle for Japan” as he called it, his submarine sinking many enemy ships. He stressed that US forces would drop leaflets on the civilian population before the bombings, warning them to evacuate – a fact he said was often overlooked.

Jim left the service with high honors and the rank of Lieutenant Commander and later visited Australia again where he introduced the sport of ten pin bowling to that country. As he told these stories on video to his veteran, Jim’s eyes lit up. He’s back now.

Jim died last year at his home in Laguna Woods.

Julian Ertz: His friend was begging to be shot

Former football player Julian Ertz, still alive and now 90 years old and also a resident of Laguna Woods, California, wanted to fight in the war in Europe and trained as a pilot and navigator. In December 1943, Julian and his crew took the ‘southern’ route to England, via Puerto Rico, Trinidad, Natal, Brazil, then across the Atlantic to Dakar, Marrakesh and finally Britain. The plane was loaded with candy for the war-deprived British children the crew expected to meet.

Tragedy struck Julian and his crew when his B-24 J Liberator – nicknamed “The Bachelor’s Baby” due to the fact that its crew was not alone – crashed on takeoff in Wales. As he recounts in his veteran video, the plane was loaded with .50 caliber shells. Julian suffered a broken back and walks with some difficulty to this day, but still considers himself lucky. He managed to hide from the exploding bullets behind the plane’s engine, which had come loose. Five of its 10 crew members and a sixth man – a hapless hitchhiker – were killed. Booster, the mascot dog, also died in the crash.

To this day he remembers Sammy Offutt’s screams as he burned alive in the wreckage, begging Julian to end his suffering with his gun. Julian failed to obey – he did not have a gun in his hand. He doesn’t know what he would do if he had it. Julian returned to the US in full force – later studied law and became a lawyer.

Sandy Ross: “It wasn’t heroic. It was exciting”

Sandy Ross, who turns 88 in December and lives in Lake Forest, Calif., has wanted to be a pilot since his days as a Lockheed riveter, riding in assembly line cockpits. Before America’s involvement in the war, he begged his father to let him go north to Canada to join up. His father refused. He didn’t have to wait long. Sandy and his brother joined the Army Air Corps and were soon both piloting P-47 Thunderbolts against German forces in Europe.

Proudly wearing his still-fitting brown jacket and officer’s cap during his veteran’s video interview, World War II veteran Sandy Ross recalled some of his 51 missions over Europe. Asked about the battle, which earned him an Air Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, as well as a promotion to second lieutenant, he said: “It was not heroic. It was exciting. It was fun.”

Our World War II veterans lived through some of the most dramatic times of the 20th century. It is important that their stories are preserved for their families and future generations. Most of our WWII veterans are in their 80s and 90s and there is a real urgency to record their stories.

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